Last month, when I was struggling to assimilate Krishan Kumar's book on empires (SR, 18 August
), no crystal ball popped up to highlight Afghanistan which has now been revealed as a textbook illustration of the limitations of imperialism in an avowedly democratic era.
NATO's Afghan adventure was always muddled in its aims and misconceived in its methods. Its failure was entirely predictable. Only the timing caught everyone by surprise.
The 2001 invasion has been defended with many different arguments which have shifted over time, skating over internal contradictions. In the beginning, there was a straightforward security argument (reiterated by George Robertson
in the last issue of SR): the Taliban and Al Qaeda posed a direct threat to Western lives and well-being.
Even in those terms, the NATO attack seemed disproportionate: there were cheaper and more effective means available to disable a small group of extremists. At best, the security argument might have suggested going in quick, driving the Taliban from office, then getting out quick, leaving the Afghans to work out their own salvation. Given the religious composition of Afghanistan, the result might well have been some form of 'Islamist' government – unpopular with the Western media – but at least it would have had local legitimacy.
Instead, the Western mission turned into a classic case of liberal imperialism, spiralling off into ambitious and contradictory dreams of nation-building, democracy and universal human rights. Historical and social processes are endlessly complex. Some work top-down, some work bottom-up and some (like peer pressure) operate horizontally. Over time, all of these interact in ways that are almost impossible to predict.
But we can say with confidence that, while some types of nation and state can be built in top-down fashion, this is not true of democracies (whether nations or states). Democracy – by definition – operates on the principle of horizontal equality, empowering individuals and small local groups. In practice, democracy is usually realised through forces operating from the bottom-up. The poor and marginalised struggle to improve their position, which means transferring power and resources away from the rich and influential. Enlightened leaders may offer some guidance but the direction of travel is driven by the masses.
Similarly, it makes no sense for outsiders to try to impose conceptions of universal human rights that largely derive from Western experience. In the aftermath of a military invasion, these ideas inevitably came to be seen as an alien imposition. Ideas about rights (or anything else) can only be effective when a local population takes possession of them and begins to work through them from the inside. And that possibility was ruled out from the start by military intervention.
Saturday: Went to Glasgow for the match and got soaked to the skin. I have pencilled this message into my diary for each day I am due to attend a game, as it saves time.
Sunday: Walking through the park in which Blackford Pond is located, I noticed a youngish person (fully masked, so I was unsure of their gender) wheeling their bike into what was just a gap between the trees and bushes, and not a pathway through or out of the park. I was intrigued. That said, I am sure we have all been caught short whilst out for a walk, especially in recent times and I figured that may be one of these times.
However, no sooner had the person disappeared into the bushes, than they re-appeared. This time with a hint of menace as they furtively glanced from side to side in what I can only describe as the most suspicious manner. Glancing left and right, then up and down the avenue of tree-laden pathways. Stepping from foot to foot as if being caught by a fit of St Vitus Dance.
My mind started working overtime. What could it be? Why would someone wheel a bike into the shrubbery, leave it there, emerge for the undergrowth and begin to act in such strange way? I recalled the recent case of espionage at the UK embassy in Berlin; was this person a spy? No, too far-fetched. A romantic tryst perhaps? An assignation with a loved one, Romeo and Juliet
-style, families at loggerheads, who would never permit such a liaison, being betrayed by the clandestine meet? Again, I thought, too fanciful. Drug deal? Too obvious.
So what then? My mind was racing as I searched vainly for the answer. Then, it struck me with the force of a fully-loaded articulated lorry. It must be, yes, that is it, eureka: stalker. I had a stalker. So, I had the answer – now to find the reason. Why would anyone be stalking me? I wracked my brain; was it my brilliant sense of humour? Or maybe, impeccable sense of style? Immense personality, even? Towering intellect, then? Hmm, so many possibilities but probably none of these.
I do wear nice shoes and that notion briefly invaded my thoughts, but why would someone stalk me for my excellent choice in footwear? No answer came, naturally, as there was none. Person L as I now recognised and termed them, having struck me as a very shadowy figure, made me wonder if they were perhaps even some kind of Deep State Covid warden; the ones the maskless protestors had warned me about, attracted by the vaccine pulsing through the veins of my now distantly controlled body. It appeared that the anti-vaxers were right all along!
I awoke with a jolt, an ear-piercing scream and in a state of terror. Sweat was lashing off me, leaving the bedsheets absolutely soaked. The images of stalkers, spies, drug dealers and anti-vaxers, all rushing through my now even more disorientated mind. Totally confused and just as embarrassed, I guess that is me now barred from Ikea, well the bedroom department anyway.
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